Elbow Grease

Photo from Wombatunderground1 via Flickr

At a certain point in basketball history, it was decided that every player worth being a player has himself a go-to move.

Why is this? Well, who knows? Perhaps it’s the relatively new video game culture, one that necessitates bundling basketball players into a series of pre-determined motions represented by colourful pixels. From this limited arsenal of movements, one must aptly construct hundreds of players from every end of every spectrum known to man. And what better way to distinguish a certain lump of pixels from a nearby, different lump of pixels than by making our selected lump move in a way that’s unique to a player?

There are bundles of go-to moves, and more often than not, it is a perfect microcosm of the player that perfected it. The quirkiness of Dirk’s one footed whatever-that-is. The fundamentally flawless yet glamour-less Duncan bank shot. The recklessness, yet masterfully crafted originality of Rondo’s behind-the-back fake. The impossible combination of speed, quickness, size and coordination of Hakeem’s Dream Shake. The sheer invincibility of Jordan’s fadeaway.

One player, though, has a go-to move that has seemingly no association at all with the attributes he displays.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRnpHgyzQoA&feature=related]

Paul Pierce, from the elbow. For the game, or in the middle of the second quarter. Every single time.

How did Paul Pierce make the elbow shot such a defining go-to move? Pierce has steered his way to fame by power of infinite swagger and unpredictability, brashly stating his case to rise above the relatively uninteresting background. How can it be that such a player expresses himself to the fullest by getting to a rather inconspicuous spot on the floor and releasing a jump shot that to the naked eye seems so incredibly normal, ostentatious only in how rarely it misses?

To answer this fascinating question, we went to the experts. The following is a collection of people who have played major roles in Paul Pierce’s life, to go with experts in various fields, with explanations as to what causes this peculiarly frequent phenomenon of Paul Pierce dribbling to where the free throw line finishes its sideways journey, rising in the air, releasing an orange ball and awarding the group of men wearing green shirts 2 points.

Disclaimer: this is, in its entirety, a work of fiction. Most of these figures do not exist, and those who do exist have never said anything resembling what is written here, certainly not to us.

Laura McDermott, Paul Pierce’s 7th Grade Home Ec Teacher:

“Paul never really liked home ec. He would always talk about how he wouldn’t need to do anything at home because he’ll be living an athlete’s life on the road, how if he ever needed something he’ll just ask Doc Rivers, which I found really weird at the time because Doc was playing for the Hawks and didn’t seem to know a lot about maintaining a positive living environment. In fact, I remember this quite vividly, Paul would always say ‘I hate homes, and I hate houses, and if I ever play ball with a dude named House, I’ll make sure he gets humiliated really badly, like being traded for a 5’8” guy or something’.

Anyway, Paul would usually sleep through classes, but this one day, something caught his attention. We were having a cooking contest, and Paul, being the competitive spirit that he was, declared that he will destroy everybody. Sadly, he didn’t know the first thing about cooking, so he had to resort to the only thing he knew how to make: his favorite food, macaroni and cheese.

Paul worked very hard to cook the elbow macaroni, constantly bragging to his classmates how elbow macaroni is the only macaroni worth anything, and how he’s the only one who knows just the right texture for such noodles. But the careful cooking of the macaroni took him so long, that by the time he was ready to add the cheese, our classes entire stocks were empty. See, Bobby Trenton decided he would make nachos for the cooking contest, and he used up the entire cupboard, more or less. Paul was furious – he blamed me for rigging the contest in Bobby’s favor, and stomped out of the classroom. It was that day that he vowed to no longer need cheese, or any other sort of accessory, to make his macaroni the best – his exact words were ‘you just wait, some day, all I’ll ever need will be elbows’. And the rest is history.”

Paul Pierce: Mac & Cheese enthusiast

Antoine Walker, Former Boston Teammate:

“Why does Pierce shoot from the elbow? If I say it’s because there are no fours, will you pay me?”

Harold, Paul Pierce’s Imaginary Friend:

“I wasn’t like many other imaginary friends. Most kids and their imaginary friends play imaginary games. That wasn’t the case for Paul and myself. I never knew the taste of being a cowboy, or an alien. Nope. Every afternoon, after Paul would come back from school, it was straight to the basketball court for the two of us.

I’ve never been much of a one-on-one player, so most of the time, Paul would just shoot and I would get him rebounds. Believe me, if you thought Dennis Rodman was impressive on the boards, wait until you see me – I would get after everything, and I don’t even exist!

That was our daily routine, until one day, the Johnson family got a new television set. This wouldn’t be news, except the Johnsons lived right near the basketball court, with their living room window looking straight at the hoop Paul would usually shoot at. Their new TV was so big (by 1980s standards), that it was easily visible from the court if you stood at the perfect angle. What was that perfect angle? You guessed it – standing at the right elbow. Now we still went to the court to shoot hoops almost every day, but over time, Paul started shooting more and more from the right elbow, and less from everywhere else, so he could watch TV. In fact, he learned lip reading, just so he could understand the shows without hoping the Johnsons just happened to up the volume and leave their window open.

This went on every day, for most of Paul’s childhood. Paul would rise from the right elbow, send the ball towards the rim, and while I brought it back to him, there was that TV, providing him with alternate entertainment. By the time Paul was recruited to Kansas, the elbow shot was virtually automatic, and Paul had watch every single episode of Cheers.” 

Sigmund Freud, Father of Psychoanalysis:

“I have no idea who Paul Pierce is, or what an elbow shot even means, but I assume it’s caused by something disturbing and Oedipean.”

Gregory Trochowski, University of Kansas Physics Department:

“Paul Pierce first entered my office in December of 1996. He had just started his sophomore season with the Jayhawks, and it was the first time I’d seen him anywhere near our Physics department. Clearly, something was on his mind.

He told me he had just seen the recent hit film Space Jam, and to his eyes, something didn’t add up. ‘I just don’t get it’, he said, ‘how could aliens not know anything about basketball? I mean, they’ve been monitoring the Earth enough to know about the Looney Toons, and basketball started way before Merry Melodies, right? Is there any way to check this with real aliens?’

Well, I didn’t know what to tell him, but the man was stubborn. We started working on ways to communicate with extraterrestrial life forms. Paul spent hours creating crop circles in the Kansas prairies. I talked to a friend of mine who specified in astrophysics and claimed to have a contact at NASA, but that seemed like a dead end before we even tried it. We even broke into the university’s radio station a few times to transmit recordings of Paul challenging aliens to basketball games. I saw no reason to believe the transmissions would get anywhere outside the Lawrence area, but I didn’t have the heart to tell that to Paul.

Until one day, near the end of the semester, Paul walks into my office, his right elbow swollen at least three times its normal size. I asked him what happened. ‘This weird green dude walked into our gym last night’, he says, ‘said he heard my challenge and he wants to play. I check him the ball, and I see he has 4 arms. Didn’t even know that’s legal, but we agreed to call our own fouls, so I let him play. I’m up 10-9, game till 11, when I drive to the basket and the idiot just smacks my elbow. Left it full of green goo. Pretty sure he was radioactive or something.’

Paul never told me who won that game, or what happened to the supposed alien, but the next fall he came back to Kansas and wouldn’t miss from the elbow. When I asked him about it, he said ‘Special alien elbow powers’. I couldn’t get another answer from him, no matter how hard I tried. My guess? He probably hurt his elbow badly, needed a cover story, and decided to tell me he met an alien just so I wouldn’t feel we wasted our time. Then he had to create the illusion of a superpowered elbow to maintain his cover, which forced him to develop the elbow shot. But who knows, man? Who knows?”

Paul Pierce and an alien during happier times

Noam Schiller

Noam Schiller lives in Jerusalem, where he sifts through League Pass Broadband delay and insomnia in a misguided effort to watch as much basketball as possible. He usually fails miserably, but is entertained nonetheless. He prefers passing big men to rebounding guards but sees no reason why he should have to compromise on any of them.